Accidental exposures to chemicals, drugs or household products are always frightening.
When the exposure involves the eyes, it is especially alarming. The good news is that most of the people with ocular (eye) exposures who call the Poison Control Center do well. This does not, however, mean that eye exposures are harmless. The reason most callers don't experience significant damage is proper treatment.
Most substances that contact the eye result in simple irritation; in these cases rinsing the eye is sufficient to resolve the problem. However, some ocular exposure can progress to a corneal abrasion or burn.
The cornea is a clear, jelly-like membrane covering the eye. If it becomes chemically abraded (scraped or scratched) it can lead to persistent pain, blurred vision, and possibly infection. A person with a corneal abrasion may feel like he has a grain of sand in his eye, even after continuous flushing with water.
It is important to identify serious symptoms and promptly seek medical attention. Failure to recognize these symptoms may result in further damage to the eyes. Always call the Poison Control Center for proper assessment of the situation.
Development of serious problems after an eye exposure largely depends upon the harmful potential of the substance involved. There are thousands of chemicals, cosmetics, cleaning products, etc. that people could be exposed to.
The mother of a two year old finds her child crying and furiously rubbing his eyes. There is a can of hair spray next to him on the floor.
A young man is fixing a car. He disconnects a fuel line and the gasoline sprays him in the face.
Mrs. Jones is distracted by the doorbell and accidently gets a shot of oven cleaner in her eyes.
If you guessed the oven cleaner, you guessed correctly. Many oven cleaners can cause burns to the eye. Gasoline and hair spray may be irritating but do not often cause serious damage.
Call the Poison Control Center anytime there is an exposure that involves the eye(s).
There is no simple list of "dangerous" versus "harmless" substances, and every potentially harmful product could not be listed here. Always call a poison center to identify the harmful potential of the substance involved.
The extent of injury to the eye also depends on the duration of the exposure. Substances that are relatively harmless may cause serious damage if not promptly removed from the eyes using an effective technique.
First aid treatment must be given immediately and is typically the same:
Additional recommendations will depend on the presence or absence of symptoms and the substance involved.
Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline